Steve DeHond: After a close call, a man finds meaning in his work and his family

It was shortly before 6 p.m. on Aug. 16, 1986. Sitting in the driver’s seat of his Chevy Cavalier, with his three young boys buckled into the backseat, Steve DeHond was headed to the movie store to return tapes and then to get ice cream. They’d gone only about a half-mile from their home in Mayfield – a little town outside of Gloversville – when a young man who’d been racing another vehicle came up behind Steve’s car and hit it, sending it across the road where it collided head-on with a pick-up truck.

Steve’s sons were all injured. His youngest, Andrew, 2 at the time, was in a child’s car seat, which came loose and slammed into the dashboard. He suffered severe injuries, including a shattered knee and an arm broken in a couple of places. Steve’s other sons, Matt and Colin, were knocked out but didn’t have other serious injuries.

Steve wasn’t as lucky. He broke several toes and his left patella, fractured both femurs, broke his left hip, shattered his left arm, lacerated his liver, punctured his bowel, had his frontal abdominal muscles removed and bruised his lungs.

He first went to Nathan Littauer Hospital in Gloversville, where they stabilized him. They couldn’t medicate him for the pain because he had to be stable and unsedated when he was transferred to Albany Medical Center to assess his injuries.

“So the trip to Albany Med was really hard,” Steve said.

Doctors had to reconstruct his abdominal muscles using plastic Mylar sheets where the muscles used to be. The only part of his body that worked was his right arm, which only needed a couple of stitches.

The utterly amazing part is that Steve survived. A nurse who was in a car ahead of him saw the accident in her rearview mirror, went back and immediately started to tend to Steve. She helped save his life, as did the ambulance crew that arrived at the scene. This nurse and the crew went to visit Steve in the hospital because they’d never seen anyone survive that level of accident.

Steve was in the hospital for 3-and-a-half months. He had to learn to do almost everything over again. Walk. Talk. Think.

“It was almost starting from ground zero,” Steve said.

Albany Medical Center invited his wife at the time to go to the hospital to say farewell. Twice. It was that close.

Steve developed a great appreciation for the doctors who put him together and the nurses and physical therapists – all experts at what they do. Steve said he feels fortunate that he didn’t have any head injuries or cardiac damage. And he’s thankful he’s alive.

However, one event, no matter how significant, does not cease life’s progression. Steve went back to work after six months. At the time, he worked for Wilton Developmental Center, a state agency serving people with developmental disabilities.

He had graduated from Utica College of Syracuse University in 1976 with a major in psychology, thinking he wanted to go into family therapy. He completed a master’s degree in guidance and counseling from Syracuse University’s School of Education in 1981. But after moving to Saranac Lake in 1987 to take a job at Sunmount Developmental Disabilities Services Office in Tupper Lake, he gradually came to recognize how much he enjoyed working with people with intellectual disabilities.

He found that he was having a meaningful impact on their lives and realized that this was what he really wanted to do. From that point on, he stayed with it, and it turned into a great career.

Steve retired from the state on Aug. 31, 2013. Looking back over his career, Steve has many fond memories. One of his favorite times was when he ran a five-person community residence in Utica. It was at the time when the developmentally disabled were just coming out of institutions and hadn’t been out in the community for a major portion of their lives. Steve enjoyed taking them places-to a museum, for an ice cream, to the movies – and saw how they grew and the fun they had. Over the course of his career as an administrator, Steve managed programs always with the focus on trying to provide the best they could for the people attending those programs. Steve spent 25 years working at Sunmount-three years as its director-and doesn’t know what other career he’d want to choose.

With retirement, Steve can spend more time with his sons. Matt, 34, lives in Queens and is a supervisor for Olive Garden in Times Square. He has a degree in music theater from SUNY Oswego, and in trying to break into acting, as most aspiring actors do, he went to work for a restaurant. After working his way up the system, he decided to follow that career. He realized that, as a good supervisor, he could make a lot of positive differences in people’s lives. Matt is married with a 3-year-old son and a 1-year-old daughter.

Colin, 32, lives in Brooklyn, loves music and plays in three different bands as a bass player and sometime singer. He was with the group Frankenpine, which evolved into Tall County. He works for a moving company during the day to help support his musical career.

Andrew, 29, who got his bachelor’s degree in fine arts from SUNY Purchase and a master’s degree in special education, lives in Vermont and works in Burlington for a rehabilitation agency as a case manager for people with intellectual disabilities.

Steve is very proud of all three of his sons and what they’ve accomplished in their relatively young lives.

In retirement, Steve also can get back to writing poetry, something he’s done as far back as he can remember. He’s already written two books, one for his sons, called “Father to Sons,” which became part of a fundraiser he did for Pendragon Theatre:

“Greetings,” from “Father to Sons”

To all of you at first I was “Da,” then became “Daddy” then “Dad.”

At each step of your life, as my name morphed along, you greeted me with the new appellation.

“Da” was what you shouted at me when I came home from work.

It was a signal for you to be my focus, to wrestle, to play, to sing, to snuggle.

“Daddy” was time to throw a football, ride a bike, play a board game.

“Dad” meant teaching you to drive, playing Nintendo, a borrowed car, or deep conversation.

At each change of my name I felt a sense of sadness, yet felt a greater sense of pride.

The awesome responsibility of raising you, with the work, the worry, the sacrifice, the ups and downs, the anger, the joy, the tears, the laughter, the strength, the growth, the sacredness…

Each name is a benchmark, a milestone, that my task nears completion.

It was a burden that never grew too heavy, never sapped too much strength.

It was an honor to watch you all become men.

When I greet you now it is full and natural and as an equal.

This time is the best, this is what had to happen.

Steve’s looking forward to discovering what this third age of his life will bring. His search for a meaningful life includes more fishing – a hobby he’s loved since age 14 – participation in community organizations such as the Masons, Saranac Lake Winter Carnival Committee and membership in the Unitarian Universalist Church. He’s currently helping the UU Social Justice Committee develop a forum on bullying of youth.

Ever since attending Syracuse University, Steve has been a fan of SU basketball. He once introduced Coach Boeheim at a fundraiser and recently appeared with Boeheim in a YES Network Center Stage television interview.

Actually, Steve said, “It was a brief shot of me in the audience.”

He’ll continue to enjoy theater and art openings and go wherever music is being played, especially if his son, Colin, is performing. And Steve’s now working on his third book of poetry.

Steve has no plans to move from the Adirondacks.

“This beautiful land of mountains, lakes, and unique people will remain my home,” he said.